Hoeven, Heitkamp, ICBM Coalition Urge Defense Department to Replace Aging UH-1N Helicopters

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp are working with the bipartisan ICBM coalition to urge the Department of Defense (DoD) to outline a clear plan to replace the UH-1N helicopter fleet currently securing the nuclear missiles stationed in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, including at Minot Air Force Base.

In a letter to DoD Secretary Ash Carter, the members pressed the DoD to proceed in a timely fashion to replace the aging helicopters.

“The Senate and House of Representatives have both put forth proposals in their Defense Authorization that would give the authority to the Air Force to procure Black Hawks. Moreover, a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate wrote in support of an urgent fix to this matter.”

The letter is signed by U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and U.S. Representatives Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.).

Earlier this month, Hoeven, Heitkamp and the Senate ICBM Coalition met with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and urged her to expedite the Air Force’s decision on the course of action to replace Vietnam–era UH-1N helicopters. However, last week, the Air Force told members of the ICBM coalition that DoD is going to move forward with a normal acquisition process. In March, Heitkamp and Hoeven also called on the Air Force to quickly decide how it will replace the UH-1N helicopters.

In April, Hoeven met with newly confirmed Under Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow to highlight the success of Nuclear Force Improvement Program (NFIP) and the need to continue to invest in efforts to modernize the B-52 and the base’s fleet of ICBMs. The senator also met with leaders at Minot AFB in March to review the needs of the base and help advance these priorities, including the need to replace the Vietnam-era helicopters the Air Force currently uses to provide security for the ICBM silos and command facilities spread across western North Dakota. Hoeven worked with Air Force officials to start NFIP in 2014, which includes a plan to replace the small aging UH-1N helicopters, and since that time, he has continued to urge military and other defense leaders to move this initiative forward.

Following Secretary James’ visit to Minot in August 2015, Heitkamp underscored the strategic importance of Minot’s nuclear deterrent, which is critical for supporting U.S. national security through smart military investments. Last year, key pieces of Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation to make sure long-range bomber aircraft, including the B-52 bombers at Minot Air Force Base, are not retired prematurely became law. In September 2015, Heitkamp brought Senator Joe Donnelly from Indiana to Minot Air Force Base to underscore the importance of the two legs of the nuclear triad at Minot, as Donnelly sits on the Subcommittee overseeing the budget for Department of Defense nuclear and strategic forces.